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Research - Advanced Rechargeable Batteries

Long life, rechargeable batteries play a critical role in NASA missions. While commercially supplied Li-ion batteries are now widely available, these batteries are often unsuitable for use in the harsh environments of space. Specialized space-rated Li-ion batteries have been developed by JPL and the United States Air Force, in concert with domestic commercial partners, and are now successfully deployed in virtually all NASA missions, including the Mars Exploration Rovers and Juno.

JPL continues to employ a dual strategy of careful selection and extensive qualification of commercially available cells, coupled with the development of custom chemistries for operation in the most demanding environments. Research in this area covers the full gamut of activities, from basic materials research to testing in lab scale cells. Extensive partnering with commercial vendors provides a clear path to scale-up and mission infusion. JPL also partners with external agencies, such as the Department of Energy, to develop electrolytes to support wide temperature operation in electric vehicles.

NASA continues to press the frontiers of exploration, and envisions sending humans to Mars, spacecraft into the atmosphere of Venus, onto the surface of outer planetary icy moons, and even boring through the ice covering liquid oceans on these moons. For such challenging missions, current space-rated Li-ion batteries will not suffice. To that end, advanced Li-ion batteries are being developed at JPL to, for example, extend the operational temperature range, increase the specific energy of the electrodes, and improve the radiation tolerance of space-rated Li-ion batteries.

Prismatic Li-ion battery cell
Prismatic Li-ion battery cell similar to those used in the Mars Science Laboratory Rover (Curiosity). The cell is in a test fixture in preparation for mission simulation testing in the Electrochemical Research, Technology, & Engineering Group Battery Test Labs.
Next generation cylindrical and small prismatic Li-ion cells
Next generation cylindrical and small prismatic Li-ion cells, both featuring advanced, low temperature electrolytes developed at JPL. These newer chemistries have the advantage of supporting charging at low temperatures.

JPL developed and evaluated fully electric vehicles
In the 1970s and 1980s, JPL developed and evaluated fully electric vehicles powered by the most advanced batteries of the day — decades before the current revolution in electric cars. Today, work at JPL focuses on the development of advanced electrolytes that are optimized for the harsh environment "under-the-hood." All of the programs have been supported by the Department of Energy.